Face of malibu-neda soderqvist

Face of Malibu: Neda Soderqvist

The Face of Malibu is an ongoing public portrait project by portraitist Johanna Spinks to record the many unique personalities and newsmakers who shape the modern Malibu community. Each sitter is always painted in a single live sitting. If there is someone you would like to nominate, please email Emily Sawicki at emily@malibutimes.com. To see more of Spinks’ portrait work, visit johannaspinks.com.

Neda Soderqvist, 45, is one of the top fitness instructors in the country, with more than 650 people who come to her from all over the world, including some of Hollywood’s biggest celebrities. She is the creator of Juicy Athletic Moves (JAM), she’s an energy healer and  coach, and holds a master’s degree in physiology. During her first instructing days, the fire station would come and close her classroom because the class would exceed maximum occupancy. She ran her first marathon in four hours and nine minutes without any training. She loves to challenge her mind and body.

Soderqvist’s background and how she got to this point in her life are remarkable. Born in Iran, her parents divorced before she was born. Her mother moved to the United States; Iran’s laws and customs forced Soderqvist to stay with her father, who was not interested in raising her. She spent her childhood in a facility (similar to an orphanage) and with her father, until her uncle paid him a large sum of money and took her to her mother in Los Angeles.

Not happy with her mother’s socialite lifestyle, combined with her stepfather’s abuse, Soderqvist left home at 16. From one abusive relationship to another, from one gang to another, Soderqvist’s years of trauma finally led her to learn to love herself and start embracing positivity. She started going to the gym and one day the instructor asked her to take over her class. From that day on, she found her place and calling.

The Malibu Times got a chance to sit down with the woman who realized that when she was helping people, she was really helping herself.


How did you come up with the idea of creating JAM?

For 18 years I have been teaching every workout you can imagine. JAM is my background of teaching everything in one class. I’ve taken the best of the best in yoga, Pilates, muscle conditioning, spinning—everything. I combined it all into a 70-minute intense workout. It’s the way and science behind every move you make. I push you to your highest limits, safely.


How do you put your choreography together?

I pick a song, and every song has a purpose. All the moves are geared toward the body part you’re working on. I capture your mind without you knowing it.


What’s the best age range for JAM?

I have 10-year-olds to 82-year-olds. 


What do you hope to accomplish with your business?

My goal is not to get the world skinny and beautiful. I want to heal and make them feel better about themselves. The inner is what’s important. The outer comes with it. I want to bring peace to people.


You have competed in triathlons, marathons, adventure races, international bike races and so much more. At what age did you first get interested in fitness?

When I was 10 years old and I wanted to swim. When I got in the pool, the instructor told me to tell my mom to come over. He told my mom that I must pursue swimming because I had a very unique set of skills and talent. 


There’s always a new diet trend. Do you agree with any of them?

None. Absolutely none. I don’t believe in diets or supplements unless you’re older and need it. I don’t believe in medication or antibiotics. The body takes care of everything. 


What is the one fitness advice that is most important for everyone to incorporate into his or her life?

Stretching. If you are someone who has no time to work out, it’s very important to stretch. Keep your body flexible. Don’t let things get stiff. When you don’t open a door for a long time, it cracks and creaks and you need WD-40 to fix it. It’s the same with the body—when it’s in motion and moving, that’s what keeps it alive.


How would your life have been different had you not left Iran?

When I think about that, it is so scary. I would be someone’s wife and that’s all. My uncle who brought me here is my hero. He rescued me. It would have been so scary if I were still there. I’m such a strong person with such a strong personality. I would not be happy there. I’m all about empowering women. That’s my work ethic.


Did your father ever contact you again?

Yes, many times, but there was always a reason. The last time he contacted me he wanted me to get him a green card. That’s when I cut him off. He didn’t want to see his daughter. There was always something attached to it.


What’s an interesting fact about you that people don’t know?

My background. Most people think, “Wow she’s just so perfect.” They don’t know what I’ve been through.


What is your favorite thing about Malibu?

I love Malibu for its community. 


How was it having your portrait painted by Johanna Spinks?

It was one of the most amazing experiences that I’ve ever had. She’s an amazing person. She opened up to me and I shared so much with her. I felt like I knew her for 100 years. It went by so quickly. She came to my work out the next week. It was like being in therapy.

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